By Azubuike Ishiekwene
As I sat looking at the blank page of my computer on a lightless Thursday morning, the iPad battery draining, and the clock ticking away, all I was thinking about was a glass half-full. After weeks and weeks of writing about utterly depressing subjects, I wanted something fresh, even inspiring, to write about.
A lift was overdue. I wasn’t going to be exactly like my friend who thinks the only way to be truly happy is to avoid the news or, more correctly, bad news. Why?
A US-based newspaper which called itself Good News with a mission to eschew bad news of any kind, however compelling, went bankrupt within a few years of its operation. So, what’s the point? Good and bad news makes the world. Yet, more as an act of choice than denial, I desperately wanted to sift through the bad for something good, something fresh to share in these unhappy times…
But my phone rang before I could even find a topic. An Embraer 120 plane belonging to Associated Airlines departing Lagos to Akure crashed shortly after take-off with 12 passengers immediately confirmed dead. Among the dead were family members taking the remains of former aviation minister Olusegun Agagu to Akure for burial. How do you get past this irony, this tragedy? How do you get past the fact that 16 months after a Dana Air plane crash in Lagos killed 163 people, another dozen is dead in an aircrash with the cause of the last crash still concealed? Trust me, I’d like to look on the bright side of life. I would like to write about the new Seal of Office of the First Lady, her sassy costumes or ingenious speeches. But how can anyone get past a present tense that sucks and sucks?
Only on Monday, this newspaper wrote yet another major editorial on the state of aviation and the madness at the ministry. There’s nothing wrong with remodeling the airports. But we have said enough for the deaf to hear that air safety is more than the transaction which it has become under the current minister of aviation, Stella Oduah. You can’t put glass, cladding and paint around the place and ignore runway lights, functional navigation tools and perimeter fencing. You cannot be so concerned about grabbing power or following the money that the civil aviation authority – the soul of air safety regulation – is stripped even of its most basic functions. Who certified the crashed plane fit to fly? When was the last time that plane was in service? Today, the word out there is that the minister issues air operation certificates and could actually license a paper kite to fly, if she chooses. I hate to think so, but who can deny that the NCAA is a terrible shadow of itself?
For how long? Can we, in the face of this onslaught, take a flight of fancy to write about staglamites and stalactites, or perhaps about President Goodluck Jonathan’s obsession with a growing GDP, which means nothing to the work-a-day lives of over 100 million poor Nigerians? I’m desperate for something fresh, some good news to share. But where, in Jonathanistan, can it be found?
Only on Sunday, over 60 students at a college of agriculture 12 kilometres outside Damaturu, Yobe State, were murdered in their sleep. In July, when 30 secondary school students were murdered in the same Yobe, the president promised the perpetrators justice in hell. That might have been a good response from a despairing father to a bunch of wayward kids. It was hardly an appropriate response to hardened murderers. I expected the sort of anger that would punish the perpetrators long before they reached hell; put up a memorial, even a stick, for the dead, and take steps to protect other schools in the area from future attacks. But it has happened again. The perpetrators returned to commit a deadlier outrage than they did two months ago. It can only mean that Jonathan’s idea of hell is either a child’s play or a fool’s paradise.
I was still searching for something fresh, some good news to share, when I came across an article published in the UK Guardian on Monday. It’s the result of an ageing survey of 91 countries, with a ranking of the best and worst countries to grow old. In May, the State of World’s Mothers Report published a report on the wellbeing of mothers and children in 176 countries in the world. That report, partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad, Gambia, Central African Republic, Niger, Mali, Sierra Leone and Somalia are the worst countries to be born in. Now, this ageing study has listed Nigeria (in league with Afghanistan and Pakistan) among the worst 10 places to grow old – old age defined as 60 and above. It cannot be different when officials raid billions of pension funds savings, while the beneficiaries die in long waiting lines.
It’s important to note that the ageing study is not all about the depth of a country’s pocket. It’s a mirror of priorities, especially how much attention is paid to education and health care. If Nigeria was a safer place to be born in 1967 when the country was at war than it is in 2013 when it is at peace, and has now become the misery capital of the elderly, how can we turn a blind eye?
Trust me, after the Associated Airlines crash, there will be crocodile tears, survivors’ tales and another enquiry. More of the same. What a country!
Give A Carpenter The Job
The way the supervising minister of education, Nyesom Wike, is going, I think the public would be better served if the job was given to a “professional” carpenter, while he retains his position as the full-time minister to Dame Patience Jonathan on Rivers State.
The man actually awarded himself a pass mark on the education sector, saying that “the fact that teachers are on strike does not affect quality, but the availability of learning material and teachers!”
What does that mean?
My carpenter would do better, seriously.